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Batman: The Animated Series – “Shadow of the Bat – Part II”

Shadow-Of-The-Bat-2Episode Number:  58

Original Air Date:  September 14, 1993

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Brynne Stephens

First Appearance(s):  None

 

Last episode, the Batman-viewing audience was introduced to a new crime fighter:  Batgirl. I think most viewers saw this one coming from a mile away, but it’s always exciting when a new character is officially introduced. In trying to remember this show as a kid, I do wonder if there was Batgirl artwork and promotional material ahead of her debut. Usually action figure companies have a way of spoiling things like this so it wouldn’t surprise me if Batgirl’s arrival was well-telegraphed. They even saved it for the September period when a lot of new programming is unveiled. Then again, Batgirl didn’t have a great reputation in 1993 since the audience mostly knew her from the 1960s show which DC was trying to distance itself from as much as possible. In the comics, she had already been paralyzed by Joker in the famous Alan Moore story “The Killing Joke” so her star had faded. Still, this was a nice way to bring her back into the spotlight and after seeing what motivated her to dawn the cape and cowl we now get to see how she is at this crime-fighting stuff, while also tackling a number of other loose ends.

robin and alfred

With Batman off playing dress-up, it’s up to Robin and Alfred to figure out their next move.

The episode opens with Batgirl (Melissa Gilbert) staking out the home of Gil Mason (Tim Matheson). Robin (Loren Lester) drops in on her, and not knowing who is behind her, she takes a swing at him. He drops her with a leg sweep and pounces on her rather suggestively and it’s obvious we’re going to be playing some games with Robin and Batgirl. The two are a little combative with each other, but they turn their attention to Mason when he takes a call on his patio. Robin is able to fire a similar device to what Batman used in the previous episode to communicate with Gordon onto Mason’s patio. He’s able to eavesdrop on Mason’s call this way, and shuts Batgirl out. She produces a pair of ordinary binoculars and eavesdrops the more traditional way. Lucky for Robin, Mason repeats aloud the address he’s supposed to head to, and lucky for Batgirl he also writes it down where she can see it. More playful banter ensues as Robin basically tells her to go home, not realizing she was able to spy the address. She, to his surprise, agrees while using a mock child’s voice that is just dripping with sarcasm. Robin doesn’t pick up on it, while Batgirl notes that he’s not the brightest bulb.

robin whoa

Easy there, Boy Wonder!

The two crime fighters head for an old subway station that has seen better days. Batgirl is shown to be a little clumsy as she traverses Gotham, but it’s understandable since she’s new at this. She arrives and finds Robin is already there. While he stealthily takes out some lookouts, Batgirl slips in and finds Mason with a group of men. It’s Two-Face (Richard Moll) and his goons and they want Mason to have a look at our buddy Matches Malone. It would seem Two-Face was only half-genuine in his death threat to Malone as he’s still alive. Mason doesn’t recognize him, and he’s pretty irritated about being dragged down to have a look considering it would seem this Batgirl is onto him. Two-Face lets him know he has nothing to fear, as he’s moving up the timeline and going for Gordon. As Batgirl sneaks in for a closer look, one of the guys Robin tied up is able to trip her and she stumbles into the Boy Wonder. This rouses the gang before Two-Face can finish revealing their full plan, and Malone shouts out a warning to Robin as they open fire.

shadow batgirl

She may be new to this, but Batgirl already knows how to cast an imposing image.

As Batgirl and Robin try to avoid getting lit up, Malone rolls onto the subway tracks and underneath the platform. Two-Face, having heard the warning to Robin, correctly guesses that Malone is actually Batman in disguise and unloads his tommy gun on the shadows. Mason implores him to run, and Two-Face apparently agrees as they take off and head for the surface. Mason is understandably worried about Batman uncovering their scheme, but Two-Face is less concerned as he orders his man to bomb the place. Mad Dog, the rat-faced guy from before, deposits a pair of grenades down the stairs which seals off the exit. Not wanting to leave anything to chance, Two-Face also activates some additional explosives with a remote device in his possession.

embarrassed batgirl

Batman pulling a power move.

Underground, Batman and Robin are in no mood to deal with Batgirl. She’s happy to see Robin produce Batman’s costume, as he curtly asks her “Do you mind?” as he begins to get changed. Following that, he basically gives her the tough love speech and orders her to stay out of their way. Batgirl is understandably hurt, but considering she did foul things up she doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on. As Robin and Batman search the tunnels for a way out, a noise Robin initially mistakes for a train turns out to be rushing water. The tunnel quickly fills and Batman is able to jump back onto the platform while Robin gets swept away. A well placed lasso from Batgirl finds its mark, and she and Batman are able to pull Robin to safety, thereby at least partially redeeming her in the process.

batgirl lectured

Batman’s first instinct is to treat Batgirl like a child. It’s what he does.

They’re not out of the woods yet though, as the water quickly overtakes everything and pushes them into a new cavern. Batman affixes some plastic explosive to his grapple gun and blasts a hole in the tunnel’s roof. Robin whips out his gun and is able to grapple onto the street above. They send Batgirl up first with instructions on how to send the receiver back down to them. She does as she’s told, but before Batman or Robin can escape the water comes rushing in leaving Batgirl with nothing but the grapple gun in her possession.

flood

That’s going to be a problem.

Back at police headquarters, Jim Gordon is stewing in his cell complaining about the food while Bullock awkwardly devours a particularly gooey slice of pizza from the other side of the bars. As the two discuss the merits of prison food, a bundle of dynamite appears on Gordon’s windowsill. The two try to duck for cover as the bomb goes off. Two hooded men enter Gordon’s cell and grab him, saying aloud that “Rupert Thorne never forgets who his friends are,” to cover their tracks. Bullock is left to watch helplessly from the hall demanding someone get some keys down there. It also falls to Bullock to deal with the media in the aftermath, a task he’s not well-suited for. As he angrily storms into the jail a cop is handling the phones. He can’t understand what the woman on the other end is saying, suspecting the phone lines have been damaged, but tells her if she wants the story on Gordon’s escape to come down to HQ. On the other end, it’s Batgirl who’s horrified to find out that Two-Face has Gordon.

In the subway, Batman and Robin take shelter in an old subway car as they try to find a way out. Batman decides to disengage the breaks on the old car and let the water take them wherever it wishes. This proves to be a sound plan as it smashes through the wall leading them to relative safety. As the subway car dangles from the newly created hole, Batman is forced to use a handle from the car as makeshift grappling hook since both he and Robin are without their grapple guns. It’s enough to get them to ground level and the two head for the wharf assuming Two-Face has already abducted Gordon.

gil mason set to kill

Gil has some evil intentions.

Batgirl gets there first and finds Mason, Two-Face, and his men have Gordon in their possession. Mason is preparing to execute Gordon, but first he has to lay it on thick and even mentions making sure Barbara is taken care of. Proving she’s a quick study, Batgirl tosses a couple of Batarangs Robin had given her to disarm some of the men. She then tosses some tear gas their way and is able to extricate Gordon. “Batgirl, I presume,” he says as they duck for cover under heavy fire. As the bad guys bare down, Batman and Robin swoop in to offer their assistance. Robin even slips in a playful “Miss me?” upon seeing she and Gordon. As they deal with Two-Face, Mason is able to slip away via a motorboat and Batgirl gives chase. As for Two-Face, he heads for a marina dubbed the Silver Dollar which has a gigantic version of his coin on the facade. Batman is able to knock it down and on top of Two-Face to incapacitate him, his face almost cartoonishly squashes as it lands on him.

Left alone to deal with Mason, Batgirl pulls herself into the speeding boat as Mason takes aim. His shot misses, but does hit the fuel tank causing a fire to break out. Batgirl climbs aboard and kicks Mason’s gun away. The two wrestle and Mason is able to yank her mask off and is shocked to find the face of Barbara Gordon beneath it. He backs off slightly, allowing Barbara an opening to take him out. She jumps off the boat with Mason’s unconscious body as it smashes into Gotham’s version of the Statue of Liberty.

Batman_vs_Two-Face

Batman and Two-Face are left to duel, I just wish the 60s theme played during this scene.

The scene shifts to a press conference outside Gotham PD HQ the next day. Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon) is there to ask Gordon how it feels to be a free man, while he notes that Mason is in a coma, but has been indicted for his crimes. Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson are on the steps behind Gordon for some reason, along with Barbara. Gleeson asks Gordon what he thinks of the mysterious Batgirl and he says she’s as welcomed in Gotham as Batman and Robin. Dick asks Bruce a similar question about if he thinks they’ll see her again. He seems to look Barbara’s way as he playfully says there’s always room for one more and suggests they’ll probably see her again. This prompts Barbara to not so coyly say “I wouldn’t be at all surprised.”

batgirl vs gil

Batgirl doesn’t need a gun, a well-placed kick will do.

“Shadow of the Bat” is a wrap and it’s a satisfying way to conclude the story begun in Part I. An obviously new to crime-fighting Batgirl demonstrates some growing pains, but also gets to play a role in taking Mason down and exonerating her father. Batman and Robin are understandably hostile towards the presence of a rookie in their midst, especially when she messes things up for them and nearly gets them killed, but they certainly come around rather quickly. Robin is also quite playful throughout and it seems they’re teasing a potential romance for he and Batgirl. They are college students, after all. I also like the ambiguous end. While the setup of all three being in the same place is a bit odd (why would Gordon invite Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson to the press conference?), it’s understandably necessary to send the message it wants which is to basically let the audience know that Bruce and Dick aren’t so stupid as to not know who Batgirl is. Well, at least Bruce might not be as we’ll find out later that Dick is still in the dark (Batgirl did note he’s not too bright). What it doesn’t address is if Jim Gordon is in the dark or not. It’s hard to believe a simple mask would cause him to not recognize his own daughter, but perhaps it’s even harder to believe he would publicly give his blessing for Batgirl to operate in Gotham essentially putting his daughter in harm’s way. That’s all stuff for future episodes to deal with, though.

Dong Yang handled the animated for Part II, which is surprising because it’s very uniform with Part I. There’s even a shadowy Batgirl shot that looks similar to one from the first part. Had I not looked at the credits I would have assumed the same animation house did both episodes. It looks quite good though, and I like that Batgirl is differentiated from Batman even further by having a lighter shade of blue for her costume. And I don’t know if it was a deliberate choice, but I also like that Batgirl got ahold of a grapple gun so she should be able to freely use the handy gadget when she reappears eventually. And she will reappear. They also conveniently put Mason into a coma, so for now, Barbara’s identity is safe. His condition will never be followed-up, maybe he has memory loss or something.

batgirl unmasked

Mason makes an important discovery during his scuffle with Batgirl, but it has no repercussions so apparently it wasn’t very important.

As far as this being a vehicle for Two-Face, I suppose that’s the only spot where it comes up short. They must have wanted a marquee villain for Batgirl’s debut, and Two-Face does fit the bill. It also allowed them to use the Thorne red-herring, and it further makes sense that Two-Face would want to frame him. I suppose they could have just used Thorne, or really anyone, but it does add a little spice to go with one of the show’s standout villains. Unfortunately, his character just doesn’t have any growth and he’s even dispatched rather easily.

Even though I very much enjoyed these two episodes, I still maintain that my preference is for Batman to remain a solo act. As such, it does not disappoint me at all that this is Batgirl’s only appearance in season one. She will return for one episode in season two, but that’s all as far as the original series goes. She, like Robin, will be more of a featured player in The New Batman Adventures, but it may have disappointed some when she didn’t immediately become a more common sight. At least in the case of Batgirl, she brings quality over quantity.

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Batman: The Animated Series – “Shadow of the Bat – Part I”

Shadow_of_the_Bat_Part_IEpisode Number:  57

Original Air Date:  September 13, 1993

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Brynne Stephens

First Appearance(s):  Batgirl, Gil Mason

 

This show has really been killing it of late and today’s episode is no different. After introducing Barbara Gordon back in “Heart of Steel” we’ve now arrived at the moment we all knew was coming. At least, those of us who were even remotely familiar with Batman lore. Barbara has an important role to play, and “Shadow of the Bat” is where she starts to take on that role. Like many two-parters that are introducing a character, it’s in Part II where we’ll really see Gotham’s new heroine in action. This episode also marks the return of Two-Face as a proper villain. After his debut, he’s largely been a secondary character showing up only in ensemble episodes alongside other villains. His introductory episodes were almost too good in terms of portraying him as a sympathetic villain, so the writers found it hard to utilize him as just another villain going forward. His episodes need a bit more weight behind them, and these next two episodes at least do a good job of referencing his first appearance, even though he’s still largely portrayed as just another adversary. And if you’re following along with the DVD release of the show (or soon to be released Blu Ray), then this is also a noteworthy episode since it’s the first one of the Volume 3 set. Two volumes down, two to go.

gotham pd

Gordon and Gotham’s finest are on the scene to start this one.

The episode opens on some dark warehouse where a couple of crooks are up to no good. They’re not too happy about the working conditions, but their boss Rupert Thorne (John Vernon) pops in unannounced to give them a good jolt. Soon the cops show up and surround the place. Thorne declares he can’t be seen there and heads for the roof while his two lackeys create a diversion. The police unveil a sleek new battering ram of an armored truck that plows into the warehouse and there’s not much the two can do with that. They’re apprehended rather quickly, but Thorne was able to ascend a ladder and to the roof. The problem for him though, is that’s exactly where bats like to roam and he soon encounters the Dark Knight. Thorne demonstrates how terrible a shot he is when he misses Batman at what could be considered point-blank range. The police, Gordon, Montoya, Bullock and a new face named Gil Mason (Tim Matheson), arrive on the roof. Gordon makes it a point to offer a word of caution to this new guy, Mason, who starts ordering Thorne to show himself. A sarcastic quip from the darkness confirms what we already suspected – Batman has subdued the crime boss and left him strung-up.

gil mason

Meet Gil Mason, Gotham’s new hot-shot deputy commissioner.

At Wayne Manor, Bruce is watching the coverage of Thorne’s capture. A lot of the credit is given to Gotham’s new deputy commissioner, Gil Mason, who issues a warning to all of the other scum in Gotham. Alfred delivers Bruce a tall, frosty, glass of milk (he’s a role model, kids), but notices Bruce doesn’t seem to be delighting in the coverage like he should. Credit is also given to a shadow informant, and Bruce would love to know who that is.

Gordon_arrested

Gordon? Arrested?! What is this, Bizarro World?

At the Gordon household, we see young Barbara practicing her gymnastics routine. She’s quite adept on the balance beam and it’s pretty important for the show to reveal her skill at this point. Commissioner Gordon is there as well, and the two start talking about Mason. Gordon considers him a godsend, and even suggests to Barbara he’s single which she needles him about. A knock at the door interrupts their conversation, and they’re shocked to see it’s none other than Gil Mason flanked by a couple of officers. They’re here to arrest Jim Gordon for accepting bribes, and both of the Gordons are furious as Jim is led away in handcuffs. Someone else is also furious, Wayne, when he sees the coverage in the paper the next morning.

barbara and janet

Another new face is Harvey Dent’s replacement as DA, Janet Van Dorn. She’ll play a bigger role in a later episode.

At the jailhouse, Barbara is seen pleading with the district attorney Janet Van Dorn (Lynette Mettey) to reconsider the decision to deny bail to her father. The kids watching the program get a nice lesson in what a flight risk is, while also learning the details of Gordon’s crime. They found evidence of laundered deposits being sent into Gordon’s accounts and even some offshore ones. Barbara is aghast, but Van Dorn won’t budge on her decision and suggests maybe she doesn’t know her father as well as she thought. As Van Dorn walks away, Bullock pops in to reassure Barbara that the entire force is on her side. He lets her know they even planned a rally for the commissioner, and who organized it? None other than Gil Mason. He assures Barbara he was just doing his job the night before, but he also supports her dad. Barbara is elated at the thought of a rally, but she does suggest it needs a star attraction to really drive the point home.

Meanwhile, Batman is snooping through the police evidence room. A patrolling officer pops in forcing Batman to sneak out through the ventilation, but not before he got a look at the evidence against Gordon. He heads to the jail and fires a little bat-shaped device into Gordon’s cell. It’s a transmitter, and he’s able to communicate with Gordon through it. He lets him know he took a look at the evidence and thinks it’s a quality forgery. He rules out the work of Thorne, but mentions he’s heard word about a new syndicate moving into Gotham. Gordon is understandably more concerned about the well-being of his daughter, and asks Batman to check on her and he agrees. True to his word, Batman drops in on Barbara, but all she wants to talk about is the rally for her dad. She begs Batman to attend, but he tells her he has more important things to worry about. He advises her to stay out of it, but that only angers Barbara. As he swings away, Barbara vows rather ominously that Batman will appear at her father’s rally.

At a rundown old building, a shadowy figure reads a newspaper. A rat-faced hoodlum (Greg Burson) enters the room to see what his boss wants. A throaty, unmistakable, voice gives him his orders, and the rat-faced man takes his leave.

matches

Bruce Wayne’s most famous alter-ego:  Matches Malone.

At the Batcave, Bruce is getting into his latest disguise – Matches Malone. Robin is there to beg to be brought along or for Bruce to at least wear a wire, but Bruce denies him. He does ask if Robin is up for making a public appearance though, which leads us to the rally for Gordon. Robin looks on as Mason delivers a speech to a raucous crowd outside police headquarters. Before Robin can swoop in and make his appearance known, Batman drops in! Robin is shocked to see the figure of Batman swing down and make a brief demonstration on a nearby building before running off. At street level, Bullock is also less than amused declaring him a show-off.

imposter batman

Batman’s got some sleek new curves.

“Batman” disappears into an alley and it soon becomes obvious that this isn’t Batman, but rather Barbara in a store-bought costume. The animation takes some liberties in hiding her identity, but does make it a point to show Barbara removing some padding and height extensions after the fact. Before she can slip away though a car comes speeding into the crowd. On the stage, Mason drops down and ducks behind the podium just before the car opens fire. They don’t appear to hit anyone aside from the search lights. Barbara, apparently feeling emboldened by the costume, goes into her gymnastics routine after the car. She leaps up to grab a banner that has been strung up. She seems surprised when it gives-away leading me to think she intended to use it as leverage, but the banner comes down over the car’s windshield causing it to crash. Robin swoops in and sees the imposter Batman and calls to her, but she takes off running. For some reason, Robin decides to give chase and ignore the gun-toting hoodlums in the car. He manages to grab the back of Barbara’s cowl causing a section to rip off exposing her hair. Robin stops in his tracks to marvel at the girl Batman, while a nearby Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon) snatches a camera and films the runaway Batgirl.

barbara revealed

Batgirl revealed.

By now, the criminals have emerged from their wreck and have taken note of this Batgirl. They open fire on her, but like most of the criminals of Gotham, they too are terrible shots as Barbara is able to vault and flip her way through the gunfire unscathed. They manage to hit the only searchlight they didn’t destroy before, causing Barbara to fall on her face. Before they can take advantage of her predicament, Robin pops in with some well placed Batarangs disarming the thugs. They take off while Robin checks on Barbara. He asks if she’s crazy, while she demonstrates she’s only interested in catching those guys. She urges him to come with her and the two take off in different directions after the pair of thugs. Barbara catches up with hers and takes him out by tossing a garbage can lid at the back of his legs. She pounces on him and removes the hood he’s wearing revealing the rat-faced goon from earlier. He tosses her aside into some garbage and gets away. Robin, apparently unsuccessful in apprehending his man, returns to the alley and finds Barbara gone leaving him to wonder where this Batgirl came from.

At Wayne Manor, Dick is watching the coverage which is being reported as an assassination attempt on the deputy commissioner’s life. A lot of the coverage is also focused on Batgirl and where she could have come from. Dick, apparently possessing DVR technology in 1993, rewinds the coverage when he sees something odd. Mason, on the stage during the attack, ducks behind the podium before seeing the guns. Dick and Alfred both find this suspicious.

MadDog

Rat Face. Despite his resemblance to the vermin, the credits tell me his name is actually Mad Dog.

The next morning, Bullock is aghast at the appearance of yet another masked vigilante, wondering when we’ll see Weasel Woman. He tosses the paper aside and then sees Barbara, which for some reason seems to embarrass him while Officer Montoya just smiles. The two leave Barbara just sitting there. It’s a rather awkward scene as we don’t know why she’s there and it’s rather odd that the officers didn’t ask. Anyway, there’s a collection of mug shots in a binder left behind and Barbara thumbs through it. Conveniently enough, she finds the rat-faced thug almost right away. We then shift locations to the home of Gil Mason. He answers his door and finds an excited Barbara who is about to tell him she knows who tried to kill him when she’s shocked to see he has company. The same rat-faced thug is in Mason’s parlor, and he excuses himself telling Mason he’ll see him at the “business meeting.” Mason then asks Barbara what she wanted to tell him, and she’s forced to improvise and says she just wanted to see how he was doing. He tries to offer her a drink, but she declines claiming she’s off to see her dad leaving Mason alone and confused.

barbara surprised

“Surprise” is not a great look for Barbara.

At a bar called The Stacked Deck, Matches Malone plays pool while rat-face talks on the phone. He’s in a phone booth and assures his boss that he can’t be heard. The camera zooms in on his lips and the narrowed eyes of Malone basically letting us know that Batman can read lips. What can’t he do? Rat-face tells his boss his on his way and he ducks out of the bar with Malone right behind him.

barbara and cowl

A character thoughtfully looking at a mask. Where could this lead, I wonder?

At her home, Barbara converses with her precious teddy bear Woobie wondering who she can turn to for help. With Mason apparently in on the job, she has no one to turn to since Batman is too busy for her. She takes notice of her discarded Batman costume and picks it up. Remarking it could use a little work, she smiles.

Malone has tracked the hoodlum to his hideout. A curious building looms before him. Half of it is well put-together and in over-all good shape, while the other half is dilapidated and ruinous. Malone fires a grapple gun and pulls himself onto a window sill. A shot inside the building lets us know the place is armed, and when Malone lifts the window open he’s electrocuted and collapses into the building. A shadowy figure looms.

Malone awakens to find himself face to face with none other than Two-Face (Richard Moll). It was pretty obvious who this was, but it doesn’t hurt to try to make the reveal feel dramatic. Malone tries to cover his tracks, insisting he’s just there to get in on whatever is going down. Two-Face lets him know he doesn’t like him, but since this is Two-Face, we’re going to let the coin decide Malone’s fate. Good heads and Malone gets a job, bad heads and he no longer gets to live. The coin does not go Malone’s way, and the rat-faced crook introduces Bruce’s face to the stock of his gun.

At police headquarters, a shadowy figure rummages through the armory. It’s Barbara, and talking to herself declares there’s only one person she can turn to now:  Batgirl!

batgirl begins

The only logical shot the episode could end on.

And with that, we’re left on a bit of a cliff-hanger. As an introduction for Batgirl, I’d say this one basically nails it. I’m on record as not being a fan of the whole Bat-family thing, I prefer my Batman solo, but if we’re going to have a Batgirl then you would be hard-pressed to come up with a better origin story than this one. Framed by the police, Commissioner Gordon finds himself jailed without bail and his daughter sets out to save him. While she perhaps gives up on the duo of Batman and Robin a bit too easily, it’s within her character (as established in previous episodes) for her to want to make sure her father goes free and that she would welcome that responsibility herself. She knows Mason is involved somehow, and she doesn’t know how deep it goes so she can’t naively go to Bullock or Montoya about her findings. She could possibly contact Batman, but as we saw with his little foray into the underworld, that wouldn’t have been fruitful anyway.

The story seems straight-forward. Two-Face has partnered with Mason to frame Gordon and thereby weaken the police force, but there are still questions. I suppose chiefly is what will happen to Batman? Considering he’s the star of the show, I don’t feel too concerned for his well-being. There’s also what action will Robin take since he’s onto Mason as well? Will his investigation force him to cross paths with Batgirl? And furthermore, is Rupert Thorne part of this in any way? It would seem strange to open the episode with him, but given his connection to Two-Face he may yet have a role to play.

All of this will have to wait until next week when we dive into Part II of “Shadow of the Bat.” Like every two-parter so far, the first chapter has left me excited and interested in where this is going. Hopefully the second chapter pays off. The episode is well-executed and looks really sharp thanks to the work of Spectrum Animation Studio. There are lots of rich blacks, likely due to the fact that this episode contains a number of “shadowy figures.” The sequence of Barbara in her Batman costume running away from the rally is quite a bit of fun to watch in slow-motion. There are stills where it’s obvious the studio “cheated” and just drew Batman, but there’s also some cool shadowy shots of an obvious Batgirl in there as well. The costume Barbara unveils at the end is also a solid design. reminiscent of Catwoman’s look, it keeps things simple with an all-gray look. A loose hanging yellow belt and chest insignia differentiate it slightly from Batman’s looks, and she also kept the exposed hair flowing out of the back of the cowl. I suppose logically it would not be hard to figure out her identity, so in some respects it causes me to appreciate the Batgirl of the 60s TV show who wore a wig when in costume. Overall, I like the look though and this was a nice debut for Gotham’s featured heroine.


Batman: The Animated Series – “The Mechanic”

The_Mechanic_TCEpisode Number:  55

Original Air Date:  January 24, 1993

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Steve Perry, Laren Bright, Randy Rogel

First Appearance(s):  Earl Cooper

Last week we got a little peek into Bruce Wayne’s past before he became Batman. This week, we’re getting a peek at Batman’s past and how he came to possess his most wonderful of toys:  the Batmobile. For seemingly as long as there has been a Batman, there has been a Batmobile and it has almost always been awesome. Sure, everyone likely has their own favorite Batmobile (the 60s one can’t be topped in terms of aesthetics), but they’re all pretty awesome in their own right. This episode is also going to borrow rather heavily from Batman Returns. The Penguin (Paul Williams) is included and he’s going to basically utilize the same scheme that he had in that film in this episode, but with a few wrinkles in how the setup occurs. We’re also at another milestone for the series and this feature, as episode 55 marks the halfway point. Including The New Batman Adventures, 109 episodes were produced so technically the halfway point is the middle of this episode.

The_Mechanic_Crunch

That’s not going to be a cheap repair bill.

The episode opens with Batman and Robin in hot pursuit of The Penguin’s thugs Eagleton (John De Lancie) and Falcone (Walter Olkewicz)(I don’t think this is the same Falcone featured in Batman Begins). They can’t escape and their bullets do nothing to the Batmobile forcing the criminals to take drastic measures. They attempt to beat a diving bridge by going below the lowering slab and crashing onto a boat below. Batman and Robin aren’t so lucky and the Batmobile gets caught in-between the divider and the bridge proper doing a number on the Batmobile in the process. Batman remarks that someone named Earl is going to have his work cut-out for him.

The Batmobile was apparently still drivable after the collision with the bridge and Batman is able to get it to a garage run by Earl Cooper (Paul Winfield). Earl is apparently Batman’s mechanic and he tells him he’ll take care of it. The Batmobile will be out of commission of course so Batman and Robin leave via Batcycles to presumably go after Penguin’s men.

earl and marva

Earl and Marva survey the damage.

At Penguin’s sewer lair, the rotund crime boss is raving mad that his men stole the wrong stamps he requested. While he’s fuming, Falcone brings in an associate of his, a fellow by the name of Arnold Rundle (Steve Franken). Rundle has made an interesting discovery during his day job working for an auto parts manufacturer. Some rare parts have been ordered by an Earl Cooper, and based on what Falcone told him of their encounter with Batman, Rundle believes these parts are intended for the Batmobile. This immediately perks up The Penguin’s mood and he informs Rundle he’ll be rewarded for his aid this day. He escorts him to the famous duck boat and sets him off with a generous check. Rundle immediately becomes concerned when he sees the canal leads only to a large drain, while Penguin and his men ignore his plight. Rundle is then presumably drowned.

Penguin and his goons head to the garage Rundle pointed them to and find Earl and his daughter Marva (Lynn Moody) at work. Penguin finds it’s pretty easy to get what he wants from Early by threatening his daughter, but before he relays his scheme he does want to know how Earl and the Batman came to be acquaintances. Earl recounts his days as a designer for Global Motors. He noticed some significant safety defects with the company’s products that put lives at risk, but rather than listen to their man, they chose to fire him instead. They weren’t done with him though since Earl knew things that could harm the company if made public. They sent thugs after him, but Batman came to his rescue. Many months later after struggling to make ends meet thanks to being labeled a whistleblower in the industry, Earl ran into Batman once again. This time it was Batman who needed help. His car was looking pretty down and on its last legs. He proposed making Earl his private mechanic. He set him up with a new garage, let him design a new Batmobile, and best of all paid him really, really, well.

Original_Batmobile_(BTAS)

The version of the Batmobile seen in Earl’s flashback.

By putting Marva in danger, Earl is forced to comply with The Penguin and he assists in sabotaging the Batmobile. He informs Batman the car is ready, and he and Robin soon show up to claim it. As Batman and Robin are preparing to head out, they notice Earl is acting rather strangely. He informs Batman that Marva is not present because she is in the basement. He also mentions he fixed the air conditioner, even though Batman didn’t request it. Batman thanks him and he and Robin take off pondering why Earl seemed out of sorts.

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Look at him! He’s so happy!

With the Batmobile on the road, Penguin and his men are free to follow with Marva still their hostage. They get Batman’s attention and lead him on a chase. It’s at this point Penguin uses a remote control to take over the Batmobile. He smashes it into guard rails and drives rather recklessly. Batman and Robin find the eject button has been disabled, and start to thinking about how they can get out of this mess. Batman then realizes Earl was trying to warn him. “Down in the basement” is a racing term for crashing, and he immediately reaches for the AC. Turns out, Early re-wired the eject button to the AC and he and Robin are shot from the Batmobile their seats breaking apart into hang gliders.

Penguin and his men did not see the caped crusaders eject and only witness the Batmobile plunge off a cliff. They celebrate prematurely and even let Earl know the “good” news, who was back at the garage being held hostage by Falcone. Hearing that Batman and Robin were killed is enough to motivate Earl to act drastically and he turns on Falcone eventually hoisting him in the air with some rigging equipment tearfully reflecting on Batman and Robin, and likely worrying for his daughter.

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Perhaps the most villainous we’ve seen The Penguin act yet in this series.

Batman and Robin pursue Penguin into an airport and stop the car. Penguin tries to escape and takes Marva hostage while firing from his umbrella at Batman. Marva stomps his foot to escape, and Robin swoops in to finish him off. An angry Penguin has been foiled once again.

Back at the garage, Earl is happily packing up his belongings with Marva while Batman and Robin look on. He’s happily going on about redesigning the Batmobile and seems totally unphased about having to move to a new garage. Batman lets him know he’ll set up some dummy corporations to order the parts through with the goal being to never put Earl and his daughter in harm’s way again. For his part, Earl just seems delighted everything turned out okay. At least for them. Penguin finds himself back in prison and polishing license plates. As a final insult a new plate comes his way reading 1BAT4U, which he angrily snaps in two.

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Let’s take a moment to remember our old buddy Arnie. You were too good for this world.

“The Mechanic” is a fun little action-packed episode with some exciting sequences. Car chases can be tricky, especially with a vehicle as long as the Batmobile which has a tendency to start bending and stretching with the animation. Dong Yang Animation is able to avoid those mistakes in delivering a quite fine looking episode. It’s always fun to see how something came to be where Batman is concerned, and seeing the genesis of his car is pretty fun. The flashback contains Batman’s 1940s Batmobile, which is a nice touch. Earl’s story in general is rather heart-warming and it’s nice to see good things happen to good people. Penguin gets to bring his feature-film scheme to the small screen. In the movie, the taking over of the Batmobile is but a small part, and here it’s used quite well to hinge an episode on. It’s arguably done better if anything, as Penguin getting to Batman’s mechanic is a better setup than his men just seemingly knowing how to sabotage the fancy vehicle.

This episode of Batman isn’t the greatest, I’m not even sure if it’s top 10 material, but it is entertaining. The actors give convincing performances, as they so often do, and the plot is nice and tidy with both suspense and emotion to drive it along. Earl and his daughter Marva won’t be seen again, but as far as one hit wonders go, they scored pretty high.


Batman: The Animated Series – “What Is Reality?”

What_is_RealityEpisode Number:  48

Original Air Date:  November 24, 1992

Directed by:  Dick Sebast

Written by:  Marty Isenberg, Robert N. Skir

First Appearance(s):  None

After having escaped both Batman and the Gotham PD, The Riddler (John Glover) is back to erase his criminal history and likely get some measure of revenge against Batman and Robin for ruining his prior plans. It’s a rare example of the show having a direct follow-up to a prior episode as villains are often captured and released from Arkham or jail offscreen. It’s not often we have a villain escape and then make reference to their fugitive state, but that’s what we have here in what is only the second appearance of the quite popular Riddler character.

The episode opens with a jogger running through the Gotham night. He decides to withdraw some money from an ATM only to find it’s spitting out riddles instead of cash. Not only that, it shows his balance as zero which enrages the man. The scene jumps to Gotham’s version of Wall Street where investors are being taunted by the scroll not by failing prices, but by riddles. We then see the Gotham Department of Motor Vehicles suffer a similar fate as Dick and Alfred wait in line to dispute a ticket of some sort. All of this brings us to Gotham PD where Batman and Gordon are discussing the obvious – this is the work of Edward Nygma, aka The Riddler. He’s been on the run ever since the events of “If You’re So Smart Why Aren’t You Rich?” and has so far managed to illude capture. Gordon then notices that all online records of Nygma’s very existence are being deleted at an alarming pace to make it appear like he does not, and has never, exist. Before Batman can ask about the hard copies of his records, they’re informed that a package has arrived at headquarters and it’s ticking.

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The shipping on that must have cost a fortune.

Gordon is apparently comfortable with letting Batman and Robin handle this potential explosive device as the two are seen examining the rather large package. Robin notes that the blocky structure is a puzzle and boasts that he was able to complete a Baxter’s Box puzzle in record time, so this should be no problem. A Baxter’s Box, as best as I can tell, is this world’s version of a Rubik’s Cube. I guess even referencing that famous toy could fall into a copyright area? Robin is able to get the box to open and inside they find a large console complete with a monitor, two seats, a massive keyboard, and a pair of headsets. Not knowing what to immediately make of it, Batman leaves Robin to check it out. Meanwhile, some cops have stolen the hard copies of Nygma’s records and are shown delivering them to Nygma himself who is watching all of this via a monitor in an undisclosed location.

Batman looks to the various riddles that Nygma left behind via the ATM, stock market, and DMV. They’re simple riddles, so Alfred and he deduce they should focus on the numbers contained in the riddles, which when translated to roman numerals, leads Batman to the DMV. There he finds some goons accessing the hard copy records there, likely searching for Nygma’s files. Batman engages them which leads to the action spilling outside where a Riddler Van tries to run down the caped crusader. When Batman winds up on the hood of the vehicle, he finds it’s being driven by a robot with a camera for a head. Nygma is able to taunt him as well, and points out the vast amounts of explosives in the back of the van. Batman is able to avoid a rather explosive demise, but not without detonating the van making quite the mess. Riddler is able to leave him another clue though, because that’s what he does, about where to turn his attention to next.

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Riddler’s virtual world.

At Gotham PD, Robin has discovered that the console delivered there is actually a virtual reality machine. He demonstrates how it works to Gordon before taking off for a snack leaving Gordon plugged into the machine. Once gone, Riddler appears in the virtual world and is able to trap Gordon. When Robin returns, he receives an electrical shock from Gordon’s headset when he tries to remove it. Batman soon arrives as Riddler’s most recent riddle directed him to Gotham PD headquarters. Robin gives him the rundown and Batman is left with no alternative but to enter the VR machine and rescue Gordon. Riddler has placed Gordon in a high velocity device within the world similar to what astronauts use to train for the force of space travel. Riddler claims Gordon’s heart can’t last in the machine indefinitely injecting a time component into the situation. Robin warns Batman that he’s basically entering a world controlled entirely by The Riddler which prompts Batman to insert an ear piece into one ear so he can maintain a link with Robin while inside the game. Robin is also able to watch what is going on via the rather large monitor Riddler included.

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If you’re going to call yourself the Dark Knight then you should look the part.

Once in the world, the episode’s perspective shifts to that. It’s mostly a world depicted in shades of red not unlike a Virtual Boy, but with some black and white as well. Riddler pushes Batman along via clues which leads him to a chessboard. Batman is forced to literally adopt his Dark Knight persona to sneak past which just leads to a constellation based puzzle for him to solve, with Robin’s help (he’s big on astronomy apparently). Eventually, Batman finds himself face to face with The Riddler and a giant version of a Baxter’s Cube. Not wanting to waste more time in figuring out the puzzle, Batman realizes he has some control over himself in this virtual world and imagines he has mallets instead of hands. He bashes the cube, which just prompts the Riddler to attack. He splits himself into multiple Riddlers, and Batman responds by doing the same. As they engage in a competition of who can create more versions of themself, Batman points out how hard it must be for Riddler to maintain control over his virtual world when splitting his focus amongst the many duplicates he’s made. Just pointing this out causes the world to collapse, and the Baxter’s Cube breaks away revealing Gordon.

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Well this presents a problem.

Batman and Gordon are able to escape the virtual world. Once outside, The Riddler returns to the monitor to taunt them and leave them one final clue about where he could be. Just after doing so, he lets out a horrible scream indicating he’s in some trouble. His clue was enough for Batman to figure out his location, and when Batman, Robin, and Gordon find the Riddler he’s still connected to his game unable to remove himself much in the same manner as Gordon previously. Batman remarks getting him out of there may be a riddle no one can solve (spoiler: this isn’t the last we’ll see of The Riddler!) as the credits roll.

“What is Reality?” is a decent follow-up the The Riddler’s debut. It doubles-down on Riddler’s fascination with video games and virtual worlds, which is an interesting take on the character, and one that feels very of the times. I mentioned previously how I liked that this episode directly deals with the fallout of the previous one, even though it isn’t a two-parter. The writers seemed to not want to really bother with riddles this time around though, opting to deliberately have The Riddler use simple riddles but with a bit of a convoluted message hidden in each one. I’m not particularly good at riddles so I feel a little uncomfortable for criticizing the episode for going easy on them, but maybe they should have hired somebody who could craft a good riddle? As a result, The Riddler seems rather stupid as his efforts are not even remotely challenging for Batman to figure out. Batman also easily bringing an end to the VR world is rather underwhelming, but maybe they wrote themselves into a corner since they gave Riddler complete control over the world. The ending is kind of chilling though. After almost rooting for The Riddler in his debut he’s a bit more of a conventional villain here, but his actions never make us desire a fate like that for him.

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Riddler’s in a rather sorry state at the episode’s conclusion, but he’ll bounce back.

This episode marks the final contribution from Akom Productions. They were let go after the some-what disastrous “Joker’s Wild” episode. Perhaps because of this they did an especially careful job with this episode. It looks fine and I have no complaints about the animation. There are some very minor errors, but most episodes contain one or two. It’s not a hugely ambitious episode, though some fun things were done with the virtual world. I’m glad only a few minutes are spent there though as that red palette gets kind of irritating to look at.

This isn’t the last we’ll see of The Riddler, which I can’t imagine comes as a surprise to anyone. It is the last we’ll see of him for a while though and his last appearance of season one. Unfortunately, his next appearance doesn’t mirror this one by dealing with the fallout. He’ll just be his normal self leaving us to wonder how he extricated himself from the VR world. I guess for them not to tell us means it wasn’t a very interesting story. I bet they just unplugged the thing, that seems to be the solution for most electronic mishaps.


Batman: The Animated Series – “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?”

If_You're_So_Smart,_Why_Aren't_You_RichEpisode Number:  40

Original Air Date:  November 18, 1992

Directed by:  Eric Radomski

Written by:  David Wise

First Appearances(s):  The Riddler

 

It only took 40 episodes, but we’ve finally made it to the debut of what I would consider the last of Batman’s most famous adversaries:  The Riddler. Thanks to his inclusion in the 60’s television series as well as Batman:  The Movie, The Riddler (John Glover) was a very well known villain and was so well known that it was basically considered a given that he would be the featured villain in the sequel to Batman Returns. And it turns out he was! That version of The Riddler, played by Jim Carrey, ended up being very similar in character to the one from the 60’s most famously portrayed by Frank Gorshin right down to the green spandex. For Batman:  The Animated Series, a more cerebral version of the character was chosen. Clad in a green and gray suit with bowler hat, he’s not very much like what we had seen before in popular media. He still is all about riddles though and the essence of the character is preserved. He’s also given an interesting motivation, and he’s yet another villain who was wronged in the past, but flouts the law in order to rectify what happened bringing him into conflict with the one and only Batman.

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Enter The Riddler.

Edward Nygma is a computer game designer who’s latest creation, The Riddle of the Minotaur, has become exceedingly popular. He works for Competitron, a company owned by Daniel Mockridge (Gary Frank), and unfortunately for Nygma all of his work has come under a work for hire agreement. He enters his office one day to find that he actually has no office. Mockridge is there gleefully waiting for him to let him know he’s being terminated. Nygma, irate at this treatment, points out how much money he’s made the company while Mockridge dangles his contract in front of him essentially boasting that he’s completely right, but there’s nothing he can do about it. Because he’s essentially a contractor, he receives no royalties for the game (or if he does, they’re not large) and no creative control. As a parting shot, Mockridge throws the episode’s title right in his face, “If you’re so smart, then why aren’t you rich?”

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Mockridge being taunted as he makes his pitch to Wayne and Fox.

The episode jumps forward two years and Mockridge is pitching Competitron to Bruce Wayne and Lucius Fox. Mockridge is looking to sell and cash-out of his growing business while Bruce is interested in moving the company to Gotham to create more jobs. As Mockridge is making his pitch, a word crawl on a building across the street (like one you would see outside a stock exchange) taunts him with a riddle and makes a reference to the big deal he’s trying to negotiate. Mockridge is unnerved, though Wayne and Fox aren’t aware of the message since it’s behind them, and are rather confused when the pitch is cut short. After Mockridge leaves, Wayne notices the riddle and begins reading it aloud while the shot transitions to the Batcave for Batman to finish the riddle. It’s a neat little trick as it points out how voice actor Kevin Conroy portrays Wayne and Batman just slightly differently.

Dick is also in the Batcave and he just so happens to be playing The Riddle of the Minotaur on the Batcave’s computer (which Alfred reveals cost 50 million dollars) which features sound effects lifted straight out of Super Mario Bros. Since Bruce Wayne had to pour over documents relating to the sale of Competitron to Wayne Enterprises, he knows about the creator of the game, Edward Nygma. The riddle also made reference to The Wasteland, which is both a region in the game and a night club owned by Mockridge. Batman decides that’s the most logical place to check-out and declares that Mockridge is in danger.

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There’s something “off” with how Riddler’s expressions are animated. It’s animation more befitting Tiny Toons or Animaniacs.

It turns out, Batman was correct. Mockridge arrives at his club’s office and finds Nygma seated at his desk. He’s now The Riddler and he taunts Mockridge with a ring puzzle. He also has help in the form of two very large goons. Batman and Robin soon arrive, dramatically crashing through a stained glass skylight, but they find no one. The Riddler soon appears to let them know they’re too late, and Mockridge is bound within the ring puzzle The Riddler had been playing with. They have a scuffle with the hired muscle, who put up a pretty good fight. Robin is rather proud of himself when he literally kicks one of them in the rear. The Riddler eventually traps Robin in an over-sized finger trap as a fire breaks out, forcing Batman to either save Robin or pursue The Riddler, who flees with Mockridge. Batman obviously decides to save his ward, allowing Riddler to escape.

As the dynamic duo speed away in the Batmobile, Robin notices all of the lights in the city are flickering on and off. Batman, affixing some sort of mini computer to his glove which looks kind of cool, recognizes that the lights are flickering in a pattern indicating Morse Code. The code contains a riddle, because what else would it, who’s solution leads them to a maze in a closed amusement park. During the prior confrontation, Batman revealed that he knows The Riddler’s identity, so The Riddler determined that he needs to take out Batman to protect his secret. By luring Batman and Robin to his maze he hopes to do just that while also taking care of Mockridge.

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The Riddler welcoming Batman and Robin to his maze.

The maze is a literal recreation of the one from Nygma’s game. Robin, having played it quite a bit, is familiar with it and Batman is gradually brought up to speed as they go along. Nygma has made this version of the maze much more lethal than the video game counterpart, and Batman and Robin have their hands full. The Riddler is able to taunt them from various video screens throughout the maze and he lets them know they only have a few minutes to make it to the center and save Mockridge, who is gagged and bound beneath the blade of the Minotaur. The problem is, no one has ever solved the riddle of the Minotaur and made it through the maze, meaning Batman and Robin will have to be the first if they want to save Mockridge and apprehend The Riddler.

Batman is willing to play along only so much, but when they make a wrong move The Hand of Fate is sprung on them. We saw the video game version earlier in the episode as The Hand of Fate is a game mechanic that punishes wrong answers by bringing the player back to the maze’s start. In the real world, it’s a literal flying hand that Batman and Robin are able to avoid. When it becomes apparent that they have no chance at making it to the center of the maze in time, Batman intentionally makes a wrong move to draw the hand to him. Using a piece of shrapnel from an earlier trap (The Riddler made them leave their utility belts outside the maze in order to gain entry), Batman is able to hack The Hand of Fate, and together with his little glove computer, is able to pilot the hand to the maze’s center. It’s cheating, but effective. There they have to answer one final riddle in order to prevent the Minotaur from killing Mockridge, and it’s actually a pretty simple riddle. Not content to make it so easy, The Riddler springs the Minotaur on them as one final obstacle that Batman is more than capable of dealing with, in his own way.

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A confrontation with the Minotaur awaits at the center of the maze.

With Mockridge saved, the only thing left is to catch The Riddler. Unfortunately for them, he’s no where to be found. He’s been speaking to them from aboard an airplane and he’s now long gone. In the episode’s epilogue, we find out the deal was completed and Mockridge came away with a cool ten million. Dick is kind of disappointed as they’re well aware that Mockridge is a creep who took advantage of Nygma’s genius, but Bruce points out that all the money in the world can’t buy a good night’s sleep as we’re shown a very paranoid Mockridge locking his doors at night and keeping a gun by his bed as he shivers in fear.

This episode very much reminded me of Mr. Freeze’s debut, “Heart of Ice.” The only difference is that Freeze’s adversary was a criminal himself, while Mockridge is just your typical corporate sleezeball taking advantage of a system that’s rigged in his favor at the expense of someone much poorer than he. Mockridge hasn’t broken any laws, but he’s obviously a morally bankrupt individual. It’s not that surprising to see a show who’s origins stem from a comic book incorporate such a villain into an episode as Mockridge’s tactics are similar to the ones comic publishers used to box out the artists and creators that made the comics successful. It would be many years later that we would find out a similar travesty occurred with Batman as Bill Finger never received credit for his contributions to the character during his lifetime. Finger, appropriately enough, was also the creator of The Riddler.

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Mockridge “enjoying” his money.

As a result of Mockridge being such a lame person, we’re in essence rooting for Nygma during this episode. In reality, he probably could have filed a lawsuit against Mockridge and Competitron and possibly could have won. For all we know he did during the two year time-jump and maybe lost. He chose to take things into his own hands though and turn to crime to exact revenge against the man and company that wronged him. How he was able to finance that ridiculous maze is not explained and I suppose we’re supposed to just ignore it so the episode can work. Even though we’re supposed to disagree with The Riddler’s methods, I have to assume we were supposed to take some satisfaction in his escape at the episode’s conclusion.

This episode is one of two animated by Blue Pencil, S.I., and it’s not a particularly strong episode. A lot of new backgrounds had to be utilized so there was some cost there, but the animation is inconsistent and there are numerous visual errors. The Riddler’s mask at one point changes from pink to gray and a key re-appears on a wall when it shouldn’t be there, among other little flaws. That stuff was common in a lot of kid’s cartoons of the era, though not so much in this one, so it stands out more. The Riddler himself is also some-what toon-like in his movements and mannerisms with his face stretching and contorting into odd shapes as he speaks. It looks out of place, and there’s some odd shots of Batman as well. The Minotaur at the episode’s conclusion, who is supposed to be a robot, also moves like this making it seem like he’s more flesh-like than steel. Blue Pencil only worked on one other episode, which we’ll get to in about a month from now, and I wonder if it’s because the quality wasn’t up to par.

The Riddler is not a villain we’ll be hearing from very much. It’s kind of a shame because John Glover’s take on the character is quite good and I much prefer it to the Gorshin and Carrey portrayal. I do wonder if he was avoided because it’s pretty hard to come up with clever riddles to dot his episodes with. The ones in this episode are kind of weak, but not embarrassingly so or anything. I can definitely see it being a very intimidating task to write a Riddler episode. I always liked The Riddler though and I kind of wish we saw him in the Nolan trilogy as I think he would have made his Riddler similar to this one. We had to wait awhile for him to show up in this series, but it would seem he was mostly worth the wait.


Batman: The Animated Series – “The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne”

The_Strange_Secret_of_Bruce_Wayne-Title_CardEpisode Number:  37

Original Air Date:  October 29, 1992

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  David Wise, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens

First Appearance(s):  Hugo Strange

“The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne” is another episode of Batman:  The Animated Series that can trace its roots back to a story from Detective Comics, in this case issues #471 and #472 “The Dead Yet Live” and “I Am the Batman!” by Steve Englehart. It introduces Hugo Strange to the Bat-verse, a scientist with a penchant for extortion. Strange uses a machine that can read the minds of individuals. Under the guise of therapy, Strange seduces wealthy individuals into agreeing to his services and when he unearths something nefarious from their subconscious he’s able to blackmail them in exchange for keeping their secrets. If that sounds familiar, then you’ve probably seen Batman Forever, where The Riddler used a similar scheme. We’re only 37 episodes deep, but we’ve already seen a few instances of where this animated series influenced a movie to come. Batman Forever borrowed some of the Two-Face bits from the episode of the same name, and Batman Begins basically adapted The Scarecrow’s scheme from “Dreams in Darkness.” It’s just another example of how far reaching this show was. This episode also marks the first time we’ll see a team-up of sorts out of Batman’s rogues gallery when Joker, The Penguin, and Two-Face show up in the episode’s second act.

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Hugo Strange is today’s villain, and while there were tentative plans to bring him back, this ends up being his only appearance in the series.

The episode opens with a woman (who looks a lot like the woman being victimized by Poison Ivy in “Eternal Youth”) being approached on a bridge by some routine looking gangsters. The woman is revealed to be a judge in Gotham by the name of Maria Vargas (Carmen Zapata) and the gangsters want her to pay up in order to protect some information they have on her. Batman, apparently was tipped off or just happens to be in the right place at the right time, is watching from above as the judge hands over a briefcase full of money only to be told the price just went up. When she pleads with them that she can’t possibly pay more the crooks prepare to leave and Batman enters the fray. Vargas tries to take off and gets herself in some danger on the bridge, accidentally knocking herself out. Batman is forced to abandon his pursuit of the crooks in order to save her.

After the commotion is over and the police are on the scene, Commissioner Gordon explains he knows Vargas and can’t imagine her having a secret she doesn’t want out. He reveals he just dined with her recently and that she had just returned from vacation. He gets a call on his gigantic cell phone about the license plate on the limo the gangsters were driving and finds out it’s registered to the same resort Vargas just vacationed at. Batman then takes off via the Batwing, being piloted by Robin, and he playfully asks Robin if he seems stressed while remarking it may be time for a vacation.

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Strange’s memory extracting machine is a bad place for someone with an alter-ego to find themselves in.

Bruce Wayne and Alfred immediately depart for Yucca Springs, a resort that just so happens to be owned by Roland Dagget (a piece of info that’s never elaborated on) and is home to Dr. Hugo Strange (Ray Buktenica). Wayne signs up for a therapy session and finds himself in the doctor’s machine. He’s told the machine will help ease his stress by forcing him to confront his past. It seems a little risky for Bruce to enter such a device, but he goes along with it. Strange pries at Wayne to reveal information on his past, specifically the death of his parents. Bruce’s thoughts are transmitted to a screen for Strange to monitor, and when he pries further bats appear along with a gloved fist and an unmistakable logo. Bruce hops out of the machine and remarks it doesn’t seem to be an effective stress reliever for him. Strange tells him the first session is often hard, but they’ll do better tomorrow. As Bruce leaves he removes a tape from his machine and refers to him as Batman. Dun dun duuuuun!

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Bruce Wayne’s secret revealed!

Strange immediately starts calling around, and we’re treated to a pretty dark, but hilarious, answering machine greeting from The Joker. Strange is going to auction off his perhaps priceless information and in addition to Joker he also calls The Penguin and Two-Face. For Joker, this is the first time we’re seeing him since his apparent death in “The Laughing Fish” and no explanation for his survival is presented. It’s also a rare Joker appearance that occurs without Harley Quinn. For Two-Face, this is the first time we’ve seen him in anything more than a cameo since his debut. Apparently Arkham was unable to rehabilitate him. As for The Penguin, this is only his second appearance in the show after kind of a comedic debut in “I Have Batman in my Basement,” one of the more divisive episodes the show output.

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Three fellas who would likely be interested in knowing who Batman is under the mask.

While Strange is busy peddling his tape, Wayne sneaks into his laboratory to get a closer look at the machine. He finds the tape on Judge Vargas (as well as many other, most of which are Easter Eggs) and sees what she’s been hiding in her past. When she was a little girl, she was playing with matches which lead to a fire at the Gotham Docks, apparently a pretty big story back in its day, as well as a destructive blaze. Bruce realizes his tape is missing and Alfred, sneaking around outside, radios him to let him know who Strange just welcomed to the resort. Bruce then begins erasing all of the tapes before finally destroying the machine. Strange and his muscle come in just as Bruce really gets going. He’s disappointed at the loss of his device, but he still has the tape of Bruce’s alter-ego so he’s in a pretty good mood. Bruce is tied up and tossed somewhere with Alfred. Alfred apologizes for failing him, but Bruce is taking things in stride claiming everything is going according to plan as he produces a lock pick and gets to work.

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Making deals with the likes of Joker and Two-Face carries certain risks.

Meanwhile, Strange is presenting his finding to the villains. Surprisingly, they go along with the bidding and decide to pool their money together so they all can see what’s on the tape know it supposedly contains the true identity of Batman. I’m a bit puzzled why someone like The Joker wouldn’t just kill Strange and take the tape, but I’ll go along with it. Strange is very happy for his payment of approximately 50 million dollars, and gets ready to play the tape for them. Unknown to him, Batman is lurking in the rafters and he switches out the input on the projector to a different tape player. What plays is a video of Strange speaking with his cohorts about his plan to produce a phony tape about Batman in order to extort a bunch of villains out of their not so hard-earned money. This naturally enrages the attendants and Strange is forced to flee.

Joker, Two-Face, and Penguin eventually capture Strange and take him to the airport. Alfred, in their limo, picks up Batman and the two give chase while Alfred remarks he’s contacted Master Dick. The villains drag Strange onto an airplane and take to the sky. They plan to chuck him out and Strange starts begging for his life. He tells them Batman is Bruce Wayne, but no one believes him. Batman, able to stow-away on the plane, cuts the fuel line and the whole thing begins going down. It crashes, and somehow everyone on the plane is able to walk away fine just as the Gotham Police show up. As Strange is being lead away, he taunts Batman. He knows he used the machine to create a false tape of him to fool Joker, Penguin, and Two-Face. As he goes on and on, Bruce Wayne shows up, much to the shock of Strange. Batman says the two worked together to bring him down under the guise that Wayne and Judge Vargas are close friends and he wanted to get back at him. Once Gordon and Strange are out of earshot, Wayne is revealed to be Dick in disguise and everyone is ready to head home.

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Bruce Wayne?! Batman?! How could this be?!?

“The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne” is a fun story – what would someone do with Batman’s secret identity? Strange’s actions are entirely logical for an extortionist, even if it’s a bit unrealistic to think he could get in touch with the likes of Joker and company so easily. The episode does jump through some hoops to preserve Batman’s secret in the end. I don’t like how the writers are afraid to show Batman as being fooled, and he instead needs to be one step ahead of Strange the whole time. The Bruce Wayne impersonation is also pretty unrealistic since Dick not only is able to look exactly like Wayne, but also sound like him as well. It’s the kind of thing a cartoon can get away with that live action would not. I guess they’re just taking advantage of the medium, but it does feel cheap. A lot happens in this episode so it moves really fast, which is fine. I suppose you could argue that the plot could have been dragged out across two episodes, but I’m fine with it as is. I did find it odd that Two-Face’s coin never came into play, he was ready to toss Strange out of the airplane, but I do like how he mentions that he knows Bruce Wayne and it’s why he can’t possibly believe that he would be Batman. Still, it’s kind of surprising that it was never revisited in a later episode with one of the three villains at least entertaining the notion. I feel like the plot of this episode is memorable, making this one of the most popular episodes of the show. I don’t know if it’s a top 10 episode, but it’s probably at least in the top 25. Just a good, some-what flawed, but entertaining episode.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Night of the Ninja”

Night_of_the_Ninja-Title_CardEpisode Number:  35

Original Air Date:  October 26, 1992

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Steve Perry

First Appearance(s):  Kyodai Ken

 

Episode 35 gives us perhaps the first true villain and foe for Batman created just for television. Up until now, the made-for-TV rogues have mostly been mob bosses and white collar crooks like Rupert Thorne and Roland Daggett. Harley Quinn, is of course, the one character from this show that everyone knows now, but she’s been strictly a henchman so far. This episode introduces Kyodai Ken (Robert Ito), or simply The Ninja, who is the first villain who can actually go toe-to-toe with Batman that was created by the show. In doing some digging online I could not find a credit for who created the character. Steve Perry wrote the episode, but I don’t know that he created Kyodai. It’s possible it was just a collaborative effort from the likely many writing sessions and roundtables that took place during the planning stages of the series.

However Kyodai Ken came to be, it’s not surprising that he exists. Ninjas were pretty popular in the 80s and 90s as villains in cartoons and comic books. Always looking cool and possessing awesome abilities, the ninja character was often a fan-favorite whether he was a hero or a villain. Having a generic ninja character in Batman:  The Animated Series helps to date the series, but in kind of a charming way. Kyodai Ken feels very “90s” as a result, but while he could have just been a simple physical foe for Batman, the show does add some depth via his past relationship with Bruce Wayne.

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Only a bad guy would get a tattoo like that.

The episode opens with our new villain infiltrating a Wayne Industries building. Clad all in black, the apparent ninja sneaks his way past security and what little resistance he meets he deals with quickly and efficiently (but not lethally, since we’re talking about a kid’s show). We’ll learn via news broadcasts that this robbery is part of a string on Wayne Industries. Bruce learns of the latest during a sparring match with Dick in which we get a small tidbit of information that Bruce is a black belt in whatever discipline his choice is while Dick is a green belt. If the belts didn’t make it obvious, then the contest will as Bruce is clearly the better and Dick seems to take exception to how seriously Bruce takes everything. When Alfred informs them of what’s taken place, Bruce gets really irritated.

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Batman has met his match? Say it ain’t so!

Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon) makes a return to the show in a more prominent role as a constant thorn in Bruce Wayne’s side. She’s there to ask him the tough questions about the robberies, and ornery old Bruce wants to hear none of it as he checks out the crime scene. She gets to do the cliche reporter trope of asking aloud if there’s more to Bruce than meets the eye, and even refers to him as The Bruce on one occasion. Apparently this was to suggest the tabloids had a cute name for him that thankfully didn’t stick as I don’t believe he’s ever called that in a later episode.

Never one to trust that the police can handle things, Batman is ready for the next target of The Ninja – Wayne Cosmetics. It’s a garish looking building with huge neon lips that the ninja has targeted, but this time instead of encountering a security detail he finds Batman waiting for him on the roof. The two square-off, and The Ninja is intrigued when Batman takes a martial arts stance. The two fight and The Ninja appears to have the upper hand until Robin shows up. As he makes a run for it, Robin nails him in the back with a shuriken exposing to Batman a demon tattoo on his back.

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When Bruce was younger, he was sepia-toned. Everything was.

The tattoo means something to Batman, as we’ve been shown a series of flashbacks throughout the episode, with more to come. They’re all of Bruce Wayne’s training in Japan before he took on the Batman persona. There, Wayne was one of the star pupils but a rival by the name of Kyodai Ken proved to be his better on multiple occasions. Ken was rather cocky about it and seemed to resent Wayne for his rich upbringing (apparently the whole dead parents thing afforded him no sympathy). Sensei Yoru (Chao Li Chi) played peacemaker between the two, often being forced to admonish Ken for his dishonorable behavior. There’s more to the story though than just petty rivalry. One night, Ken tried to steal the Master’s prized blade – a weapon of considerable value. Wayne was there to catch him in the act, and Master Yoru interrupts their duel. Yoru banishes Ken from the dojo and he escapes further punishment, but Bruce never forgot the one man who could always beat him – the man with the demon tattoo on his back.

Batman is understandably irritated by the presence of Kyodai Ken in Gotham and he now knows that Ken is likely seeking retribution for Wayne’s role in getting him kicked out of the dojo all those years ago. Robin wants to accompany Batman in tracking him down, but Batman wants nothing to do with him. It becomes obvious that Batman is actually worried he can’t defeat this one (even though he’s got plenty of other tools beyond just his raw fighting ability, but whatever) and it’s taking a toll on his mood. Alfred fills in the details for Robin as he was there with Bruce to witness his many defeats at the hands of Ken.

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He’s a clever ninja.

Bruce Wayne is to attend a a charities reception and he goes alone. As he makes his way out of the event, Gleeson chases after him and hops into his car with him badgering him about the robberies. Bruce offers little and when the valet wishes him a good night Bruce realizes it’s Ken in disguise – too late though as Ken hits the pair with some kind of knock-out gas and jumps into the car. When Bruce awakens he finds his hands are bound and Gleeson is with him. They’re at some kind of textile plant, I would guess, since there’s rolled up carpeting behind them. Ken is happy to reveal himself to Bruce and boast about his massive plan to electronically drain all of Wayne’s accounts and wire the money to his own. Bruce tries to play to his ego, as does Gleeson calling him a crook, for abandoning the way of the samurai in favor of being a ninja. Ken doesn’t seem to care about their judgements.

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The confrontation that apparently started this whole thing.

Luckily for Bruce, Robin did not heed his advice and has located them thanks to a tracking device in Bruce’s car. He’s not the stealthiest vigilante as he trips Ken’s alarm and is forced to face him on the rooftop. Robin holds his own, but Ken is able to slash out the supports of a water tower (in classic anime fashion where the splitting of the supports only occurs after Ken sheaths his blade) spilling the contents onto the roof taking Robin with it. During their confrontation, Bruce was able to get free of the bindings Ken had used and is ready for a fight when Ken returns. Kyodai mocks Bruce and taunts him that he could never best him, and that appears to be true. Bruce gets knocked around while Robin sneaks into the building, much more successfully than before. He realizes that Bruce is holding back due to the presence of Summer looking on. He’s able to tamper with the carpeting rolled up along the wall to get one roll to unfold over Gleeson, obstructing her view of the fight. At that point Bruce is able to let go and he soon proves the better fighter. Recognizing his defeat, Kyodai Ken flees diving into the nearby river, but not before informing Bruce that this isn’t over.

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Oh, it’s on now!

After the police arrive, Bruce is able to thank Robin for his help. This small victory for Robin is enough to erase the frustration he felt earlier in the episode (and in “Robin’s Reckoning”) and he seems quite tickled to be praised by his mentor. Bruce also reveals that he told Gleeson Batman showed up to deal with Ken, which apparently was enough to get that reporter off his back (you would think she’d want to know more about the obvious past relationship between he and Kyodai Ken – some reporter she turned out to be) and put a nice bow on things, but with the obvious weight in the air suggesting that this rivalry is unsettled.

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Bruce gives as good as he gets.

As this episode doesn’t feature a villain from the comics, it has a B-level feel throughout that even shows in the episode’s production. There’s some sparse shots here and there and a few instances of characters looking a bit off. There’s one close-up of Gleeson that makes her look kind of frightening when she’s shoving a mic in Bruce’s face. The opening scene of Kyodai infiltrating the Wayne Industries building also has a worker character seated at a computer where only his arms are animated. Everything is very static, including his coffee which the illustrators gave the appearance of a rippling liquid but no one animated it further just making it look weird. Ken is also really simple being a ninja dressed from head to toe in all black with just his eyes exposed. He sports a red sash for his sword, but that’s it. The artists also resisted any temptation to add shading to Kyodai Ken so he is strictly black. Often times in cartoons you’ll see similarly colored outfits shaded with blue or a lighter color to add definition and depth to the image. Ken basically looks like a shadow, but since this show had a pretty substantial budget I like to think this was a stylistic choice as opposed to a cost one.

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If you enjoyed Kyodai Ken then good news, he will return!

“Night of the Ninja” is unofficially part one of a two-part story focusing on Batman and Kyodai Ken, so it feels a bit odd to judge it alone. By itself, it’s a solid episode and Ken is given a reason to exist in this universe by being Batman’s better. Their fight at the episode’s climax feels a bit brief, but perhaps that’s due to the follow-up episode having a more robust encounter. We’ll have to wait and see for their true showdown, but the simple fact that we’re left wanting more is a pretty good indication of the episode’s success at getting the audience to buy into a villain they’ve never seen before. It was also fun to get a glimpse of a Batman who’s confidence has been shaken. We’ve only seen a little of this side of Batman before, primarily when he first encountered The Scarecrow many episodes ago. That episode was more about an internal conflict of Batman vs his fears while this one presented a true physical foe that Batman was unsure if he could handle. We’ve seen plenty of bad guys go toe-to-toe with the caped crusader at this point, some more than holding their own, but we’ve never really been given any indication that Batman could possibly come up short in a fight. For that reason, Kyodai Ken fulfills a role and making him a character unique to this series means he’s not hampered by anything from the comics and the writers are free to do with him as they please. The episode ends up being probably better than most would assume if they heard it featured a villain created for television and I think it fits quite solidly into that tier of Batman episodes that’s pretty good, not great, but a better than average.